An Annapolis-based political consultant pleaded guilty Tuesday to wire fraud, stemming from a scheme to solicit millions of dollars in political contributions through several scam political action committees that he founded and advertised as supporting certain candidates and political causes.
Kelley Rogers, 55, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria. The Justice Department released details of Rogers’ plea late Wednesday afternoon.
FBI agents made a highly-publicized raid of Rogers’ Main Street offices in May of 2017, spreading panic to his firm’s GOP clients in Maryland.
But it quickly became apparent that federal law enforcement authorities were focusing on Rogers’ work in Virginia. According to prosecutors, Rogers operated multiple PACs there over a period of half a dozen years, implying that donations to these PACs would be funneled to Republican candidates for governor and attorney general, among other offices.
In 2014, former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II (R) sued Rogers and one of his business partners, their firm, and one of the fundraising entities they set up, Conservative Strike Force PAC, accusing them of raising vast sums of money but only delivering a small fraction to his 2013 campaign for governor. The case was settled out of court in 2015, and Cuccinelli is now a high-ranking immigration official in the Trump administration.
Prosecutors accused Rogers of hiring vendors to send email solicitations and make telemarketing phone calls to prospective donors seeking political contributions to his PACs. Those solicitations, devised by Rogers, were based on materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, authorities said, and the consultant spent most of the money he raised to benefit himself and his business partners.
“Rogers swindled millions of dollars from individuals attempting to participate in our democratic process,” said Timothy R. Slater, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office, which led the investigation.
In Maryland, Rogers’ previous clients have included the campaign committees for Maryland Senate and House Republicans, and the 2016 congressional campaign of then-state Del. Patrick McDonough (R-Baltimore County), and the 2016 U.S. Senate campaign of state House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County).
In the 2018 election cycle, Rogers’ firm, Strategic Campaign Group, created the Maryland Victory Fund PAC, which was initially funded by real estate interests to elect pro-development candidates for local offices in the Democratic primary in Charles County. The candidates had never heard of the PAC nor had they solicited its support.
Rogers told Maryland Matters last year that he will work for Democratic candidates on occasion if they do not have Republican opposition.
Late in the 2018 general election, the Maryland Victory Fund PAC was hired to produce a mailer sent to households in Prince George’s County attacking Benjamin T. Jealous, the Democratic nominee for governor. Among the people who paid for the anti-Jealous mail piece were Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, an ally of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).
Over the last decade, Rogers has made at least 30 campaign contributions to Maryland political candidates – Republicans and Democrats, state campaign finance records show.
Former state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) was the biggest recipient, receiving $4,500 total. Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) was next, receiving $3,500 collectively. Hogan received a $1,000 contribution from Rogers in 2016, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) received $500 in 2013.
Rogers has also contributed to federal candidates in Maryland, including U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R), Szeliga’s Senate campaign, and Dan Bongino when Bongino, now a Fox News commentator and talk radio host based in Florida, sought a congressional seat.
For several years, Rogers’ firm, the Strategic Campaign Group, was based at 191 Main St. in Annapolis, a three-story office building with many prestigious tenants, including high-earning lobbyists Gerard E. Evans and Bryson Popham and Wayne Rogers, an entrepreneur and former state Democratic chairman. Red Red Wine Bar, a popular Annapolis watering hole, is on the main floor.
As part of his guilty plea, Kelley Rogers agreed to pay $491,299 in restitution to victims of his fraud scheme, as well as $208,954 in judgment payments.
His sentencing has been scheduled for January 2020.
William F. Zorzi contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.